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Garvaghy Road residents to press Blair on marches

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — Nationalists living on the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, who have endured seven months of loyalist protests since a planned Orange Order parade at Drumcree was re-routed, will ask the British prime minister next week why the RUC has failed to prosecute those who, they say, have flouted rulings limiting the scope of marches there.

The Orange Order held a strategy meeting in Portadown last week but has not publicly said what its next move will be. Meanwhile, Portadown is awash with speculation on how the Orange campaign will develop, with rumors that 20 loyalist parades are being planned for 1999.

The Garvaghy Road residents say they will present Prime Minister Tony Blair with a 16-page dossier on Monday, giving details of the dozens of illegal marches and intimidation they say they have suffered since July.

They will also be taking a videotape showing Orange marches in the area, some over the Christmas period when, they claim, there were repeated breaches of the law on parades by Orangemen and their bands.

The Parades Commission has specifically banned any music, singing and behavior likely to cause sectarian tension or offense, especially in sensitive areas, such as at St. John’s Catholic chapel, past which the Order marches every time it parades to Drumcree.

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After a march on Dec. 19, during which "The Sash" was repeatedly played, the Commission reminded Orangemen of the ruling. The response at the next parade was four bands playing "The Sash" at St. John’s on the outward journey and six on the return.

Blair has taken a personal interest in the continuing Drumcree crisis, putting his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, in charge of the proximity talks between the residents and the Orange Order that have so far failed to break the deadlock.

Last week, there were three nights of activity in the Garvaghy area, with two streets being blockaded by loyalists on Thursday night, preventing local people driving into or out of the area for a time.

On Friday night, just before midnight, a band was heard playing at Drumcree church and local people called the residents’ spokesman, Breandan Mac Cionnaith, to the scene.

On Saturday large crowds gathered at the Catholic Craigwell Avenue area, where seven houses have been put up for sale since last July after repeated loyalist marches and rallies.

"Over the Christmas holiday, when families surely should be able to expect to enjoy some peace in their homes, we were instead subjected to repeated protests close to the area", Mac Cionnaith said. "If this was a Muslim community in Britain, or any other vulnerable group being systematically intimidated by another, it would not be tolerated."

Boy’s killer sentenced

On Friday, the loyalist killer of a Catholic schoolboy in 1997 was jailed for life in Belfast after pleading guilty to murder. Norman Coopey, 27, was one of a gang that abducted and murdered 16-year-old James Morgan before hiding his body in a water-filled pit used to dispose of animal carcasses.

Morgan had just finished his exams and was looking forward to his summer holidays. The trial judge called the killing a "heinous" crime and said it was motivated by pure sectarian hatred.

Morgan was hitching a lift back from a party in one of the loveliest parts of County Down, but had the bad luck to fall into the hands of the gang. Once they found out he was Catholic, they beat him to death before dumping his body in the pit, where it wasn’t found for three days.

Coopey pleaded guilty to "finishing the boy off." Morgan’s parents say they have no feelings for their son’s murderer and hope to get their family back to normal.

Meanwhile, new figures show that Catholic applications to join the RUC have increased to one fifth. This is still less than half of what might be expected, since Catholics make up at least 40 percent of the population in the North.

The Ulster Unionist security spokesman, Ken Maginnis, says the figures prove the RUC is acceptable to the vast majority of Catholics. He says the only reason Catholics did not apply to join the force, before 1994, was fear of IRA retaliation.

But Alex Attwood of the SDLP says that even before the violence of the last 30 years, Catholics were reluctant to join a force protecting a state in which they felt they had no stake.

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